The Real Iron Lady: Working with Margaret Thatcher

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The Real Iron Lady: Working with Margaret Thatcher by Gillian Shephard

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Subscribe Log in. Read the full article. But she had her share, not least the priceless political asset — as predicted by Jim Callaghan, the man she drove from No 10 in — that whoever won that election would inherit the arrival onshore of North Sea oil. The black gold proved a miracle that would ease Britain's notorious balance of payments problems and finance the huge cost of mass unemployment and economic restructuring caused by the collapse of old, inefficient industries.

With the rise of Asia, all western states faced such problems.

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Thatcher's critics protested that her aggressively monetarist policies damaged British manufacturing more than it need have done. She was also lucky in her opponents. The miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, was a vain and often foolish strategist.

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So was General Leopoldo Galtieri , the Argentinian president who launched his Falklands invasion in the winter. Jacques Delors , the fierce French socialist whom she came to see as embodying the ambitions of Brussels — "the Belgian empire" in Thatcher-speak — to destroy British sovereignty, was also a good whipping boy.

Most important was her good luck with events in domestic politics, whichhelped Thatcher, deeply unpopular as recession and inflation worsened in , survive early challenges. Its leader, Roy Jenkins , won the Hillhead byelection promising to "break the mould'' of British politics, just days before the Falklands crisis broke it in quite a different fashion. Thatcher emerged from the recapture of Port Stanley and the election with a majority of , Labour almost beaten into third place in the popular vote but well ahead of the SDP-Liberal alliance in seats. Neil Kinnock succeeded Foot and began the long modernisation that culminated in Tony Blair 's three victories of But Kinnock was never comfortable dealing with an aggressive older woman and lacked both her experience and her command of detail.

Forty years since Thatcher became PM, the truth about working for the Iron Lady

Thatcher held him at bay, crucially so when he failed to land the killer blow that might have ended her premiership in the Commons debate over Westland. That followed Michael Heseltine 's resignation as defence secretary over the fate of a Yeovil-based helicopter company: should it be merged into Europe or US partnership? Thatcher was mixed up in leaks and skulduggery, but escaped, damaged but still in charge. In the longer term, Westland did bring her down by making Heseltine an implacable foe, stalking her for the leadership. She won the election with a smaller seat majority, off the back of what proved to be Lawson's unsustainable boom.

But tensions and internal contradictions were mounting. Norman Tebbit , still suffering from the Brighton bomb wounds that crippled his wife, quit the cabinet. Nicholas Ridley , her ideological soulmate, was forced to resign for indiscreet remarks about German domination. Lawson sought to steady the pound by secretly making sterling shadow the German mark. He and Howe wanted a commitment in principle to take the pound into the embryonic single currency, known as the Exchange Rate Mechanism or ERM, something she resisted until a showdown at the European Madrid summit of June In November that year, enraged by her reappointment of the economist Alan Walters to shadow him, Lawson walked out of the cabinet.

Major, fast emerging as the latest of her would-be successors and proteges, became chancellor. Howe, so long her loyal lieutenant — author of the budget that slashed spending in a recession — was sidelined and humiliated. All the while , Thatcher's nemesis was creeping up on her in the shape of the poll tax. The "community charge" represented her ambitious plan to replace unpopular household rates with a headcount tax that even council tenants would pay: it would dampen their enthusiasm for services paid for by others, she reasoned.

Ideologues, by now firmly in the ascendant, encouraged her to pilot the scheme in Scotland, which had stubbornly resisted both her analysis and English nationalist tone, then to introduce it in one fell swoop south of the border. More unpopular even than water privatisation , the poll tax prompted riots in Trafalgar Square.

There had been riots before in Brixton and Liverpool, triggered by unemployment and deprivation in the early 80s, but the rioters now were expressing doubts shared by mainstream voters. A further sign of Thatcher losing her grip came when, as a frequent defender of the apartheid regime in South Africa, she dismissed Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist'' not long before he emerged from prison to become the hero of the peaceful transition to majority rule.

With Labour ahead in the polls for more than a year, MPs began to feel restless. In November an obscure backbencher called Anthony Meyer ran as a stalking horse against her, winning 33 votes and 27 abstentions. Wounded, Thatcher fought on, ever more dramatic in her pronouncements — "We are a grandmother" — and even in her choice of evening dress.